How to create effective adverts for recruiting software testers

When recruiting software testers many hiring managers often look for the impossible candidate who can do everything.

These people don’t exist yet many hiring managers continue to place job adverts that seek out these candidates.

An impossible job spec used for recruiting software testers
An impossible job spec used for recruiting software testers

 

What follows are 5 ways that will help you to create effective adverts for recruiting software testers

When I was early in my hiring career I created the usual generic and weak job adverts that swamp the usual jobs boards.

I listed so many responsibilities, expectations and skills that most candidates didn’t apply. I was seeking the impossible candidate. I was seeking someone who could do everything.

If you do a quick search for testing jobs online you may notice that most of them fall in to two distinct categories.

The first group of adverts are seeking the impossible tester. More on the pitfalls of this later in this post.

The second are somewhat different and aim to seek the niche tester. These adverts are so specific that only a small percentage of testers would fit the bill.

For example they would be asking for “ability to raise a defect using work-flow X in tool Y” and “must be able to use Z best practice” etc. They are so specific that many people will move on to other adverts before considering applying for your job.

Neither style of advert is particularly helpful at getting great applicants. Don’t get me wrong – you will receive applications. There are lots of people applying for every job out there. I’m also sure that some of these styles of advert do work in certain contexts, but it’s my belief that to get great testers you need to do something different.

I believe it’s important to focus on the values of the person and the results that you expect.

The following 5 points may help you to create a different, and effective job advert. Included at the bottom is a sample job advert format.

1. Focus on your team’s values

Hiring someone who doesn’t meet your team’s values will have a corrosive effect on your culture.

It’s my belief that team fit is more important than technical ability.

If you have your values right then most candidates who share these values will learn, adapt and grow as your business does.

If you don’t have your values articulated then spending some time to write them down is helpful. I’ll be writing more about values (and behaviour) in the future as they are key to growing an effective team.

2. Understand the problem you are trying to solve

It’s pointless just to keep recruiting software testers without understanding the problems you are trying to solve. I’ve written about this before here.

It is important to understand the problems your next hire is going to help you solve. This will help you to create a more focused job advert and ensure you’re interviewing for the right software tester. It will also give the applicant a deeper understanding of what the expectations of them are.

3. Don’t always copy what the masses are doing

When we started creating different styles of adverts at NewVoiceMedia many people were skeptical. As it happens the job adverts have worked well.

We often receive feedback stating our advert stands out for two reasons.

Reason number 1 is because they focus on the person as well as the skills. Reason number 2 is because they look and feels different; they are brief and succinct and promote our culture well.

Sometimes standing out from the masses is not helpful though. There may be a reason why the masses do something a certain way. But experiment, be brave and try something new. You can always change it based on feedback.

4. Stop using mandatory and optional sections in your advert

In my opinion most job adverts in the software testing industry contain two sections that I feel are not useful.

These are the “mandatory” and “optional” sections of skills and experience.

The view seems to be that anything in the mandatory is, as expected, a mandatory skill or ability or experience. Anything in the “optional” is , as expected, optional.

The problem with this is that it says little about the actual person and their approach to their work. It also doesn’t cater for those who have the ability to learn new skills and gain new experiences.

These sections can deter good testers who don’t feel they meet the required expectations.

I know I struggled to even articulate the tangible experiences and skills I wanted in someone, let alone which section they should be in.

What would happen if an outstanding candidate applied but they didn’t meet one or two of the mandatory?

What would happen if an underwhelming candidate applied but could put a tick against all the mandatory items?

What would happen if someone met all the mandatory but none of the optional? Or all the optional but none of the mandatory? Or a decent mix of both?

I’m getting confused now but you get the point?

People use these sections in adverts as a filter mechanism and this may be OK if you just want bums on seats but not if you want great testers.

Instead it pays to focus on the person and keep the skills and technologies generic. This sounds counter intuitive but the right person will pick up the skills they need.

So don’t put great testers off with a poor advert.

Job adverts can be filters but I prefer to look at them for what they are; adverts.

A job advert should attract and persuade someone to take a course of action – that’s the basics of advertising. It should draw people in to find out more, not repel them away.

That does not mean lying – far from it – but it does mean using the advert to attract people in.

5. Focus on selling your amazing working environment

You do have an amazing working environment right?

An advert is a chance to sell this environment and attract the right candidates.

Your advert may be the first contact a candidate has with your company. Your job is to inspire them to find out more and communicate to them why your company rocks.

Trust me, to get the best testers you’ll face some stiff competition. Your advert should advertise why a candidate should choose your role (and company) over another. Don’t forget though – your advert should be truthful.

Over to you

I’d love to hear how you stop searching for the impossible tester when recruiting software testers?
And what style of job specs have proven successful for you?


Sample job advert format

Title

A clear succinct industry recognised title works fine.

Feel free to use terms that represent your brand and culture, like Rock Star etc. Be clear in your title about what the role is as this will likely be listed on websites, jobs boards and included prominently in communications from recruiters.

Your Goal

This is where you list the solutions and objectives the person will need to fulfill.

Are they building a test infrastructure, managing people, expected to do awesome exploratory testing or will they be working in the performance engineering function?

Working Here

List here the types of work you do and what the candidate can expect to work on.

Is it a cloud based multi-tenant platform?

Is it software as a service?

Is it telephony based or an accounting package or security software?

What scale are you working at?

How often do you release?

These should all be selling points. If they aren’t you’ll have to work hard to make them appealing.

This section is also an opportunity to explain a little about the activities and culture of your company. Do you run hack-athons and learning events? Why is it cool to work at your company?

Values and Processes

This section allows you to list your values. What core values do you promote?

These values should guide your recruitment and inform the way you lead the team.

If your values are good enough you’ll attract the people who share these values, or want to work in an environment that promotes these values.

This is also a chance to explain some underlying process choices your company have made.

Are you agile?

Do you do pair programming?

Are you doing Test Driven Development (TDD) and Behaviour Driven Development (BDD)?

Tools

In this section you have a chance to talk briefly about the kind of tooling being used.

Try not to be too prescriptive in this section. I find a simple list is all that is required.

It gives people a flavour of whether they could work in this environment.

Remember, this section should not be a “You MUST use X, Y and Z”.

Good people will up-skill and retool.

 

At the time of writing this post there is an open position at NewVoiceMedia for a Software Engineer– the link may cease to work when the advert is pulled from the site.

 

Don’t rush in to a hiring decision

 

We regret to inform you image
We regret to inform you – Image from Caro Wallis “Sweet Sorrow” March 24, 2010 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

It’s very easy when recruiting to rush in to a decision about hiring somebody, especially so when you haven’t been inundated with a significant number of good candidates.

Be cautious though when making a decision and be sure that you’ve truly explored the options open to you. 

It’s sometimes better to delay a hire (and sub-sequent knock on to work load) than it is to hire someone who’s not right for the team. Hiring someone who is the wrong fit can have a real detrimental impact to the whole team.

One way to mitigate rushing in to a decision is to have a number of different people interview the candidate and then be responsible for making a decision about hiring them. 

If you have at least 4 people interview a candidate then you can get a balanced view of the candidate. Ideally the other interviewers will be from other functions across the delivery side of the business (agile, dev, product, service etc).

If any one person says “no” then it’s up the others to try and convince them to change their mind (if the candidate is worth fighting for) or the other must simply accept the decision and move on.

It can be hard to say “No” to really good candidates, buts it’s a process that helps keep the bar high. It is of course more expensive and time consuming but if you’re trying to hire the best talent then it’s a system I would absolutely recommend.

So why do we rush in?

Of course there are commercial deadlines to meet and hiring constraints to work within but in my experience most people rush in to making decisions on candidates because the candidate is the “best” of the rest.

This sounds harsh but it happens very frequently, especially in the testing and scrum master hiring arena (no doubt others too).

After a string of pretty bad interviews it can be tempting to say “yes” to someone who stands out. And this may be a good strategy as you may get the person you want, but is the person standing out because they are exactly what you’re after, or just because they are somewhat better than the others?

In the future I’ll share ways to get the right candidates first time so you spend less time interviewing bad candidates, but for now take it easy when hiring. Take some time, don’t rush, don’t feel the pressure too much and always try to be objective in your decision making. Hiring someone that doesn’t fit can be a very costly and demoralizing event. Instead, consider a group consensus as a way to get a more balanced view of a candidate.

 

Certifications are creating lazy hiring managers

A certification is not a marker of excellence.

I can say this categorically from the viewpoint of someone hiring testers.

It’s a viewpoint often ignored, dismissed and unheard by those extolling the virtues of the certification as an effective tool for hiring.

I’ve interviewed 100s of testers and I’ve yet to see any direct link between excellent candidates and their possession of a testing certification. Period.

certification of awesomeness
Certification of Awesomeness

To print your own certifications of awesomeness – visit Certification Magic.

Don’t rely on them for your recruitment as they won’t provide you with candidates who have the consistent level of experience, knowledge or aptitude that many people promoting this angle of certifications would have you believe.

If recruiting excellent testers was as simple as pre-filtering candidates based on them possessing a certification, then every software company in the world would have awesome test teams – but this simply isn’t the case.

You cannot presume someone with a certification is a talented tester.

You also cannot presume someone with no certification is a rubbish tester.

Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling you a certification, lying, misinformed or easily mislead in to spouting a message they have not thought critically about.

This doesn’t mean that certifications are bad. They could have their place. In fact I’ve heard some very compelling reasons recently for using the certification schemes. They seem to solve some people’s problems.

But they create problems in recruiting.

Certifications have created lazy recruiters (hiring managers, HR and recruitment agencies) by providing a seemingly easy way to filter applicants. This in turn has given lazy candidates a simple route to getting through the filters.

Candidate no longer need to excel at anything, nor up-skill (other than sitting more certifications) or learn how to sell themselves effectively (Testing Club link to a thread discussing selling yourself) in order to get an interview, and presumably, also land a job.

Overall it’s creating a vacuum of fairly average people all playing certification inflation to keep up with everyone else.

I believe that certifications are not improving our craft in the way many believe they could, or should, and they are negatively affecting the recruitment of testers.

A certification is a business transaction. Lets not pretend it’s anything more. You pay for a course, you get a certificate (and a short amount of coaching/training/lecturing/reading etc).

Certifications are not education and they are no substitute for on-the-job learning, but they may be a useful source of learning and a useful introduction to testing for some.

A certification tells you nothing about the candidate themselves. It tells you nothing about their soft skills, aptitude, motivations, self learning ethos or work ethic. This is important because being a good tester is more about the person than it is about the skills. Most skills can be taught and learned – aptitude, thought patterns and work ethic are much harder to change.

Recruitment is not supposed to be easy. It is hard work finding good testers. Your job as a hiring manager is to find good people. This means your job is going to be hard. Embrace the challenge.

Instead of relying on certifications why not try other innovative ways of getting the right people? It’s not as tricky or expensive as it may first seem. (I’ll be sharing many of these ways over the coming months).

But of course if all you want is another bum on a seat then certifications may be your more efficient way of recruiting.

If however, you want a test team that can help your business adapt to the changes and evolutions it will inevitably go through then you will have to drop your reliance on certifications as a way of recruiting testers; certifications are making both you and the majority of candidates in the testing industry lazy.